Archive for September, 2007

PROVE IT!

Monday, September 17th, 2007

Gill and I have just gone through a major change in our practice and personal lives. After 18 years of owning and practising in the one location, we have handed over ownership to another chiropractor. So it feels like an appropriate time to reflect and to share some experiences, and some insight into the challenges and potential of our great profession.

It was an emotionally charged time as we started to tell our patients and practice members that we were going to be moving on and that we were going to be handing over their care to a new chiropractor. And there were three groups whose reactions really impacted me: The first group was those old faithful regular clients who had been seeing me for 15 to 18 years. Some reminded me that they had seen me in my first weeks of practice. A couple of people even reminded me that they’d seen me in the first days of my practice. And they reminded me how young and “green” I was; and many thanked me for how much I had grown up and evolved in that time.

Now, this raises an interesting question: why would someone see a chiropractor consistently, and regularly over a period of 18 years? I can guarantee you that it wasn’t because I signed them up with an 18 year prepayment plan. But instead, they must have some conscious value for the benefits that they receive from their adjustments. And they have enormous experience in terms of how chiropractic has helped them – beyond the relief of an acute low back episode

The second group that probably affected me the most was a group of 18 to 22-year-old’s, who when I told them that I was going to be moving on, and that they were about to be under the care of another chiropractor; they looked at me with sorrow and surprise and even disappointment. And most of them said to me, “what am I supposed to do, you have been my only chiropractor for my entire life. You have kept me healthy for all these years?” - Many of them since birth. And it reminded me of how much children intuitively love chiropractic care when they have a good experience. You don’t need to educate or intellectually explain the benefits of chiropractic to a child who experiences them. It’s like a seven-year-old boy said to me once, “I love getting adjusted, you recharge my batteries”.

The third group that probably surprised me a little was a significant group of people who’d only been seeing me for weeks, perhaps months, maybe a year or two: In the bigger scheme of an eighteen year old practice, not a long time. But they too were shocked and disappointed that I was going to be moving on. I guess every chiropractor has patients like this: People who’d been to every other doctor and had all sorts of medical tests and been to other alternative practitioners. And then they stumbled upon you and the healing magic started to occur. And I realised that this group associated their healing with ME and perhaps not so much CHIROPRACTIC. They also place an enormous amount of value on our adjustments. The next part of their journey, being under a new chiropractor, will be to discover that their healing comes from chiropractic, not from Nick Hodgson.

So here is the big question: Do you underestimate the value of the benefits from YOUR chiropractic to the health and wellbeing of your patients and your community? Are you aware of the changes that are happening in the lives of your practice members?

I know there was a time in my practice life where I underestimated the value of what I did. And I remember sitting in a packed theatre at a Dynamic Growth Congress on the Gold Coast, on a Friday night. And one particular speaker was sharing a case story of someone that he cared for over a long period of time. This patient was in a wheelchair as a result of previous injuries, and as the story unfolded, we saw photos of this guy, looking sickly and drawn, in his wheelchair; through to a time when he was no longer in his chair; and then he was holding a newborn baby; his own son in his arms: Both events that should not have happened – but for a chiropractic miracle. And I can remember sitting in my chair, feeling really tense, and then I broke into a cold sweat, and then tears started to well up in my eyes. And later that night, I was tossing and turning in bed, trying to get sleep, and I realised that there was a deep burning question building up inside of me; and it sounded something like this: “Nick, where are your miracles, where are the miracles in your practice?”

Now you might be thinking that when I got back to practice on Monday morning, that there was a guy in a wheelchair, or a deaf or a blind person, waiting to see me, who had a miraculous healing after I adjusted them, and that from that day on I produced miracles of my own. No, my outcomes didn’t change: But instead what happened was my awareness changed. And over the next few weeks and months I started to notice changes and miracles that had already been occurring in my own patients – I just had never taken the time to notice. And as a result I developed a deeper appreciation for the changes that occur as a result of my adjustments. So, let me ask you again: Do you underestimate the value of YOUR chiropractic care?

How do you start to identify and become more aware of the changes that are happening in your practice? In the past, the main way we used to help ourselves to become aware of our miracles was through the patient testimonial. When we had a patient who had a dramatic response to our treatment, we would get them to write a short story about their experiences. And after a while we would have a collection of a range of these testimonials. But what about all the other patients in your practice? How do you know what changes they are experiencing under your healing hands?

Now is one of the best times to be a chiropractor, because we have so many fantastic tools and technologies to measure and demonstrate what happens as a result of an adjustment: We can use health questionnaires to record someone’s state, at any given time. Anything from a neck disability, or low back pain questionnaire; through to specific health problem questionnaires, like asthma or ADHD or any named illness for which I guarantee you can find the questionnaire that matches the ailment; through to health and wellness, and quality of life questionnaires.

And there are also numerous functional assessment technologies, which can measure almost any aspect of your patient’s physiology. From taking digital photographs, and then using software to analyse their postural alignment; Or digital radiographs, where we can store the images on our computer and draw angles and measurements and calculations to be compared later; Through to surface EMG, paraspinal thermography, and pain algometry, and flexibility inclinometry; and now even heart rate variability, brain EEG, skin conductivity, and bio feedback assessments: You name the thing you want to measure, and the technology probably exists to demonstrate the changes.

So what are the benefits to the average chiropractor of utilising these technologies? The first and most obvious reason is that it helps to identify the miracles that you might otherwise miss. Often people don’t tell you about some of the less predictable changes that have happened in their lives until you see the changes in their physiology, and then they’ll say, “oh so that’s why I’m sleeping better, or playing better golf, or feeling happier?” And like me you’ve probably noticed that sometimes people have short memories. Those people who, when you first met them were in a terrible state, and were struggling to do even daily activities. And after a period of being under your care life is now going pretty well. But then, they say to you, “why do I need to keep coming? I’m not sure whether I’m getting any value out of my adjustments?” And you think “what are you talking about, don’t you remember how bad you were? Can’t you see how much you have improved?” So the benefits of using outcome tools is that you have a “snapshot” in time of what they were like back then, and you can show them and remind them as to how far they have come, and how much value they do receive from chiropractic.

So which tools should you be using in your practice? Here’s a really big question that you need to be asking yourself: What do you claim to change? What changes do you expect to see in your patients when you adjust them? A useful bit of homework to do is to take a blank sheet of paper and down one side list what are the major changes that you focus on that indicate that your chiropractic is working? And come up with a short-list of what are the most important functional improvements that you expect. Is it an improvement in posture, a change in a cervical curve angle, a reduction of muscle tension, improved flexibility, less pain and daily dysfunction, or an increased state of well-being and quality of life? Then, next to each of those listed changes, you need to identify the tool that you can use to prove that you change what you claim to change.

I’ve noticed that this can be really, really challenging for many chiropractors. And there seems to be only two possible reasons why a chiropractor would resist utilising these tools: The first is that they perceive these technologies as being expensive or time-consuming: In fact most technologies are now more than affordable and cost effective than ever before, and can usually more than pay for themselves via the extra revenue they generate: Some can be delegated to staff members who are usually more than enthusiastic to get more involved in the clinical and healing process.

And the second “excuse” appears to be a degree of fear of exposure. “What if I don’t change what I claim to change?” And I guess that are only two possibilities to this scenario: either chiropractic doesn’t work or YOUR chiropractic doesn’t work! But this perception is best resolved by putting the outcome tools to work – You either discover that your chiropractic is working; it’s not working as well as you would like (in which case you can modify your management plans and procedures); or it isn’t working (in which case you will need to discover a way that does work): Any of these three possibilities leads to improved quality in your products and service to your community – a win-win situation for everyone.

It is now the 21st century, and if you are practising in the same manner as you were in the 1990s, then you are not a 21st century chiropractor. Assessment and treatment technologies have evolved greatly in the last decade, including the chiropractic adjustment – there are new ways of adjusting which are gentler and faster, which work as well as, and perhaps even better than the “old” stuff. And there is no doubt that the chiropractic profession needs to redesign its packaging IF it wants to be seen as the leaders of the wellness revolution, as opposed to just another provider of drug-free back treatment.

What will happen if our profession doesn’t embrace the technologies and opportunities of the 21st century? There’s a saying, “put up or shut up”: Show your evidence and be listened to and respected, or stay silent and have your ways of life dictated to by others. I know there was a period in my practice life when I was waiting for the definitive study that proved that chiropractic did what I thought it did – improved state of wellbeing, maximized health and optimised human performance. And that once this paper was published in a legitimate scientific journal, the rest of the world would sit up and listen to us. It’s been eighteen years, and I am still waiting! And the profession is 112 years old, and we are all still waiting. That’s not to say that
there haven’t been some good papers – but the “breakthrough” has not occurred.

Here’s what I have discovered to be a fact: The evidence that chiropractic works exists inside the four walls of each and every chiropractor’s office – they are just not using the tools to prove it – they are waiting silently for someone else to present the evidence – maybe someone really famous and trendy who will receive a chiropractic miracle and do a testimonial on national TV, and then everyone will want to get adjusted??

Imagine if every DC used outcome tools in their practice, and that as a result they had enough evidence in their practice to publish just one case study in their career: That would mean that the Australian chiropractic profession would contribute 2,500 case studies to the evidence base. And the US contingent could produce tens of thousands of case studies. Case studies are a legitimate means of scientific endeavour, and the registration boards can’t silence you from sharing this information with the world.

But here’s what happens if you stay silent, and have no evidence to “put up” – third parties start to dictate to you the terms and conditions of your practice life… When the chiropractic profession shuts up, we wake up one morning and discover that our patients cannot share their success stories with the outside world; we wake up and discover we can no longer use the title Dr. What wake-up call will it take to make you put up your proof? Waking up to discover that it is now illegal for you to care for children; waking up to discover that you can no longer adjust necks because some other profession thinks it’s not safe; that you must discharge your practice members once their symptoms subside; or that if their symptoms haven’t subsided after four weeks that you must refer them to another profession anyway?

Maybe we shut up because we lack certainty? THE BEST solution to a lack of certainty is EVIDENCE: Evidence that what you do makes a difference in the world – and the most convincing way to collect the evidence is through the use of relevant outcome tools to measure what it is that you claim to change. You see, nowadays I have complete certainty that MY chiropractic works exactly as I thought it did; it improves state of wellbeing, maximizes health and optimises human performance – I know this because I have used the tools to measure what I claim to change, and they change!

Please join me in the 21st century…

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